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J Mol Biol. 2004 Jun 25;340(1):127-39.

Rapid self-assembly of alpha-synuclein observed by in situ atomic force microscopy.

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Department of Molecular Biology, Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Am Fassberg 11, D-37077 Goettingen, Germany.


Self-assembly of alpha-synuclein resulting in protein aggregates of diverse morphology has been implicated in the pathogenesis of Parkinson's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders known as synucleinopathies. Apart from its biomedical relevance, this aggregation process is representative of the interconversion of an unfolded protein into nanostructures with typical amyloid features. We have used in situ tapping mode atomic force microscopy to continuously monitor the self-assembly of wild-type alpha-synuclein, its disease-related mutants A30P and A53T, and the C-terminally truncated variant alpha-synuclein(1-108). Different aggregation modes were observed depending on experimental conditions, i.e. pH, protein concentration, polyamine concentration, temperature and the supporting substrate. At pH 7.5, in the absence of the biogenic polyamines spermidine or spermine, elongated sheets 1.1(+/-0.2)nm in height and presumably representing individual beta-sheet structures, were formed on mica substrates within a few minutes. Their orientation was directed by the crystalline substructure of the substrate. In contrast, sheet formation was not observed with hydrophobic highly oriented pyrolytic graphite substrates, suggesting that negatively charged surfaces promote alpha-synuclein self-assembly. In the presence of spermidine or spermine 5.9(+/-1.0)nm high spheroidal structures were preferentially formed, sharing characteristics with similar structures previously reported for several amyloidogenic proteins and linked to neurotoxicity. alpha-Synuclein spheroid formation depended critically on polyamine binding to the C terminus, revealing a promoting effect of the C terminus on alpha-synuclein assembly in the bound state. In rare cases, fibril growth from spheroids or preformed aggregates was observed. At pH 5.0, fibrils were formed initially and incorporated into amorphous aggregates in the course of the aggregation process, providing evidence for the potential of amyloid fibril surfaces to act as nucleation sites in amorphous aggregation. This study provides a direct insight into different modes of alpha-synuclein self-assembly and identifies key factors modulating the aggregation process.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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